Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Heston: Hot Property

Heston Heston Heston Heston

Hailed as one of the hottest up-and-coming artists on Atlanta’s vibrant underground soul scene, singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Heston Francis this month releases his already-critically-acclaimed sophomore album ‘Warm Human Cold World’. A mellow, 10-track set which - largely recorded live in the studio - combines sensual, seductive grooves with funky uptempos, while lyrically revolving around the intimate rise-and-fall of a real-life personal relationship.

Born in Dominica but based in Georgia’s aforementioned soul capital since late 1999, Heston initially released a self-titled, self-financed EP in 2005 before taking over three years to record his well-received 2009 debut LP ‘Storyteller’.

Today meanwhile, with the mellow vibe of Heston’s Seventies-soul-flavoured music having already invoked comparisons with Marvin Gaye, Leon Ware and Maxwell, his aforementioned new concept album takes us on a revealing journey through his love-life. As standout cuts on ‘Warm Human Cold World’ range from the dreamy, shuffling ‘Outside Your Window’ and lilting, atmospheric ‘Warm Human’; to the celebratory reggae groove of ‘Right Here’ and brass-driven, upbeat ‘Greatest Lover’.

All of which provides excellent subject-matter as a forthcoming-yet-laid-back Heston reacquaints himself with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis, to discuss his self-penned and self-produced new set - which is already being hailed by connoisseurs as one of the best indie-label contemporary soul releases of the last 12 months.

Titling his new, second album ‘Warm Human Cold World’

“The title of the album obviously comes from one of its tracks, ‘Warm Human’. And it’s funny how that song actually came about. I’d started teaching guitar lessons to a young lady who, though she was vey much interested in music, couldn’t actually play any INSTRUMENTS. So I began helping her out, I didn’t really charge her for it... And so, at the end of the first lesson, she turned to me and was like ‘I really want to thank you. I think you are a warm human and this is a pretty cold world’... You know, she really appreciated me helping her. And so, after she made that statement and the lesson was over, I basically let my mind run wild and ended up writing what ended up as the song ‘Warm Human’!”

What Heston wanted to achieve musically with ‘Warm Human Cold World’

“I think it just is what it IS. In that this time round I think I just naturally moved into a more romantic mode with the music. But having said that, there was also a DELIBERATE approach. In that from the last album everyone was loving the more cool, heady stuff - ‘Distant Lover’, ‘Radio’, ‘No Way, No How’ - and I just wanted to give the audience - the fan-base that paid for the concerts and bought the records - exactly what they WANTED. So in that way the approach to this album was that bit more STRUCTURED. And though I obviously still consider myself a new producer - I’ve only to date produced my OWN albums - I do think I definitely learned enough from the process of producing ‘Storyteller’ to now be able to take time in the approach to this record and try to make it even MORE of a concept album than ‘Storyteller’ was. So, while I guess a good part about being independent is that I can pretty much do what I want, at the same time I also do want to take care of the people who listen and love what it is that I DO. And so in many ways ‘Warm Human Cold World’ is a fan appreciation record. Because I definitely did try to pay much attention to what it is that my audience gravitated to and liked last time round... Which in turn brought out a side of me that is more personal, and that musically very much reflects that groove-based, sensual stuff that’s always moved me from artists like Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware.”

How and why Heston’s lyrics this time round revolved almost entirely around a personal relationship he was in at the time

“Well, I kind of always want to be honest with what I do musically. And this time around I think I literally was having the best relationship I’ve ever HAD! I was loving someone probably more than I’ve ever loved anyone in my LIFE! So I was basically just trying to be as true to what I was feeling as I COULD be and to capture exactly what I was going though in what I WROTE. You know, I just allowed whatever came to COME! Which is why, compared to ‘Storyteller’ I think this album reflects more of an intimate part of who I AM.”

The personal background behind some of the songs on ‘Warm Human Cold World’

“Well, I’ll start with ‘Greatest Lover’. Which was actually meant to be a SAD song because - when I started writing it - the relationship I’d been in was over. And like I said, it had been a magical relationship - very toxic, but at the same time AMAZING!... But then, when I told the young lady I’d been dating about it, she came to me and was like ‘Heston, PLEASE don’t make it a sad song! Make it happy and uplifting!’... So though it was originally going to be a slower song that reflected the sadder side of the relationship - you know, though it had been the greatest love, the way it ended was so sad - because of her I decided to focus on the GOOD part of the relationship and make it more positive! Which is how it ended UP!... Then with ‘Crazy’ too I’m talking about the same thing. You know, how I loved her so much but I had to let her go - I had to leave because I couldn’t TAKE it any more… While ‘Outside Your Window’, on the other hand, deals more with the time in the relationship when we were TOGETHER. Because it’s basically about me understanding that, no matter what else is out there, nothing compares to being inside with her and making things work… So yeah, it’s probably kinda sad, but really I guess almost the entire album centres totally on that one person and the experiences I had with her.”

How and when Heston first became a professional musician

“To be honest with you, growing up I never really had a strong musical background. My mom sang in church; I sang a little bit in church... But, though at High School I did do plays and win awards for singing and acting, it wasn’t until I moved here to Atlanta in around late 1999 that I actually first got on the mic with a live band. At the time I was actually working for a carpet-cleaning company, who’d moved me to Atlanta from Florida to help with sales and opening up a new office. And because - when I first came - I was bored, I ended up hanging out at night. You know, there’s a big poetry and live music scene here. And the guy that I was hanging out with - his name is MD - basically forced me to get onstage. And that’s actually when I first realised this was something I actually liked doing more than I’d been prepared to admit! So I decided to just start taking it seriously, look more into it, and pursue it professionally.”

The story behind him putting out his music independently through his own label Worldsoul (released through Dome in Europe)

“Well, one thing I’ve always said is that I always want to be proud of the music I’m putting OUT! Making timeless music is the most important thing to me, and I’m not gonna sell myself out to some major-label A&R guy to end up making music that I’m ashamed of! Which is why I ended up HAVING to put my music out on my own - I didn’t have a CHOICE! Because, except for maybe my mom and a close friend who thought I could sing and write well, no-one else believed in me enough to FINANCE it! But, though no-one else at the time thought it was worth the investment, after putting it out myself I did end up getting a surprising amount of attention. And, while so far the Worldsoul label has just been an outlet for my own music, eventually I do wanna write more for other artists and produce other people’s records. So, if I do find something I feel is worth investing in, I’d love to eventually expand the label so I can release other artists’ material through it too.”

The album ‘Warm Human Cold World’ is out now through Dome

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